Monthly Archives: November 2013

Getting Married: FAQs

Scarsdale CPA Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions! Getting married is an exciting lifetime milestone, but with it also comes major changes to your finances.

Marriage and finance faqs from scarsdale tax preparers

Get to know these FAQs before the wedding!

 

The following are frequently asked questions our Westchester CPA firm regularly receives regarding marriage and your financial situation:

 

 

Unmarried couples don’t:

  • Inherit each other’s property automatically. Married couples have the state intestacy laws to support them if they do not have a will. Under the law, the surviving spouse will inherit (at the minimum) a fraction of the deceased spouse’s property.
  • Have the privilege to speak for one another in a medical crisis. In the case that your life partner loses capacity or consciousness, someone will have to make the go-ahead decision for a medical purpose. It should be you, but if you haven’t filed certain paperwork, you may not have the ability to do so.
  • Have the privilege to handle one another’s finances in a crisis. A married couple that jointly own assets is less affected by this problem than an unmarried couple.
▼ How should unmarried couples protect their estate and financial holdings?

Here are some important steps to take for couples that are unmarried:

  • Draft wills. The chances of the intentions being followed through with after a death are greater if both partners make wills. Without wills, the probability of the unmarried surviving partner having no rights is more likely.
  • Think about owning property together. This is a way to guarantee that property will pass to the other joint owner at the time of the other’s death due to the right of survivorship.
  • Make a durable power of attorney. This will permit the partner to sign papers and checks and take care of other financial issues on his/her behalf should one become incapacitated.
  • Make a health care proxy. Also known as a medical power of attorney, this permits the partner to talk on your behalf to make medical decisions, should you become injured.
  • Have a living will. This lets your wishes regarding artificial feeding and other measures to prolong your life be known.
▼ Is more insurance necessary for married couples?

In the case of death, life insurance will provide a form of income for your dependents, children or whoever is your beneficiary. Because of this, married couples usually require more life insurance than singles.

Having someone dependent on your income will determine if you need to have life insurance. If someone such as a child, parent, spouse or other individual is dependent on your income, you should have life insurance. The following are situations where life insurance is necessary:

  • Single parents or families with young children or other dependents. The younger your children, the more insurance is necessary. Insurance should be in proportion to the amount earned. If both spouses are working, they should both be insured. If both earners cannot afford to be insured, the primary wage earner should be the first to be insured and the secondary will follow. To fill the insurance gap, a less expensive term policy may be used. Insurance should be bought to cover the absence of services such as childcare, bookkeeping, housekeeping, which are provided by the spouse that works within the home. The insurance that covers the non-wage earner is secondary to the insurance that covers the wage earner’s life, if funds are scarce.
  • Adults that have no children or other dependents. You will need less insurance than people in the previous situation if your spouse can live comfortably without income. However, some form of life insurance is still necessary. You will want at least enough to cover burial expenses, to pay off any debts you may have acquired, and to provide an easy transition for the surviving spouse. You may want to buy more insurance if you think your spouse would go through financial hardship without your income or if your savings aren’t adequate. This depends on your salary level as well as the amount of your spouse’s, the amount of savings you have and the amount of debt incurred.
  • Single adults without dependents. Unless you would like to use insurance for the purposes of estate planning, you will only need insurance to cover expenses for burial and debts.
  • Children. Typically, children only need life insurance to cover burial expenses and medical debts. An insurance policy could also be used as a long-term savings instrument, in some instances.
▼ Who needs to be notified if a spouse changes their name after marriage?

All organizations that you had correspondence with while using your unmarried name should be notified. You can begin with the following list:

  • The Social Security Administration
  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Post Office
  • Investment and bank accounts
  • Employer
  • Voter’s registration office
  • School alumni offices
  • Credit cards and loans
  • Club memberships
  • Retirement accounts
  • Subscriptions
  • Passport office
  • Insurance agents
▼ Should I update my will when I get married?

Definitely. When an important life event occurs such as marriage, it should be updated. If not, your spouse and other beneficiaries will not get what is meant for them at the time of your death.

▼ After marriage, what are the tax implications?

You are entitled to file a joint income tax return upon marriage. Although this simplifies the filing process, you will more than likely discover that your tax bill is either higher or lower than when you were single. It’s higher when you file together, as more of your income is taxed in the higher tax brackets. This is commonly known as the marriage tax penalty. In 2003, a tax law that intended to reduce the marriage penalty went into effect, but this law didn’t get rid of the penalty for higher bracket taxpayers.

Once married, you may not file separately in an attempt to avoid the marriage penalty. Actually, filing as married filing separately can raise your taxes. For the optimal filing status for your situation you should speak with your tax advisor.

▼ Can married couples hold property?

Yes. After marriage, there are many ways of owning property. They differ from state to state.

  • Sole tenancy, which is when one individual has ownership. The property is passed on in accordance with the will at death.
  • Joint tenancy, with the privilege of survivorship. Two or more people have equal ownership. The property is passed to the joint owner upon death. This should be used to effectively avoid probate.
  • Tenancy in common, property has joint ownership with the privilege of survivorship. The property is passed on according to your will upon death.
  • Tenancy by the entirety, like joint tenancy, with privilege of survivorship. This doesn’t allow a spouse to get rid of the property without the other’s consent and is only possible for spouses.
  • Community property, property that is gained through marriage that has equal ownership. States such as AZ, CA, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA, and WI allow community property.

Our Scarsdale tax preparers here at Herman & Company CPA’s are here for all your financial needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Harrison NY, Larchmont NY, Scarsdale NY, Rye Brook NY, Pound Ridge NY, Purchase NY, Stamford CT and beyond.

Photo Credit: Skley via Photopin cc

Death of a Loved One: FAQs

Scarsdale accountant Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions!

Death and finance questions and tips from scarsdale tax preparers

Eliminate stress from this difficult time by getting to know these FAQs.

While the death of a loved one is an unpleasant topic that nobody likes to think about, the truth is that two things in life are inevitable: Death and taxes. The best way to prepare yourself for the inevitable and to ease some of the stress that comes with it is by getting to know the following FAQs.

 What will I need if a member of the family dies?

The following is a list of papers that will be necessary:

  • Copies of all insurance policies.
  • Marriage Certificate (if the deceased’s spouse will be requesting benefits). You may obtain copies at the Office of the County Clerk where the marriage license was issued.
  • Certified copies of the death certificate (a minimum of 10). These can be bought from the funeral director or from the Health Department in your county.
  • Birth Certificates of dependent children. These may be obtained at either the County or State Public Health offices where the child was born.
  • Social Security numbers of the spouse, deceased and any dependent children.
  • Military discharge, if the deceased was a veteran. Write to The Department of Defense if you are unable to find copies.
  • A complete list of all property, including stocks, savings accounts, real estate, and personal property of the deceased.
  • Will, which will more than likely be with the lawyer of the deceased.
▼ Should I take any particular steps with regard to the assets of the deceased?

To learn how to hand the following assets of the deceased, speak with your financial advisor.

General rules are as follows:

  • Automobiles. Find out if the title of the car of the deceased needs to be modified by checking with the State DMV.
  • Insurance Policies. The beneficiaries of policies held by the deceased’s spouse may need to be modified. (It might be smart to lessen the amount of life insurance coverage if the spouse doesn’t have any dependents.) Revision of home and auto insurance may also need to be done.
  • Bank Accounts. The title of a joint bank account will automatically pass to the surviving spouse. Advise the bank to change the ownership records. If the name of the deceased was the only name on the bank account, the asset will go through probate unless it is a trust account.
  • Safe Deposit Box. A court order is necessary, in most states, to open a safe deposit box that is only in the deceased’s name.
  • Stocks and Bonds. Verify with the broker of the deceased to change title of stocks and bonds.
  • Credit Cards. If the credit cards are only in the deceased’s name, they should be cancelled and the estate should pay outstanding payments. If the cards are in both names, the surviving spouse should inform the credit card companies of the death and ask for cards only in the survivor’s name to be reissued.
▼ What can I do to avoid overpaying for a funeral of a member of my family?

Planning ahead is the best way to avoid overpaying for a family member’s funeral. You should know about the Federal Rule or the regulation of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) dealing with practices of the funeral industry. It provides that:

  • You must be given, over the phone, price and other relevant information by the funeral provider to answer your questions.
  • You must be given 1) a disclosure of important legal rights, 2) a general price list, and 3) information about caskets for cremation, embalming and required purchases by the funeral provider.
  • You must be given, in writing, any service fees for the payment of goods or services such as flowers, obituary notices, and pallbearers, on your behalf by the funeral provider. Some funeral providers add a service fee to the cost, while other charge you only the cost of the item. You must also be given any information from the funeral provider about refunds, discounts or rebates from the supplier.
  • You must be given by the funeral provider, in writing, information regarding your right to purchase and what is available to you – an unfinished wood box, a type of casket, or an alternative for direct cremation.
  • In getting the products and services that you do want, you are not obligated to buy unwanted goods or services or pay any addition fees. You only need to pay for the goods and services you selected or that the state law requires in addition to the fee for the services of the funeral director and staff.
  • You must be given an itemized list of the total cost of the funeral goods and services selected by you. It must inform you of any cemetery, legal, or crematory requirements that you must meet to buy any funeral goods or services.
  • You are not allowed to be told that a certain funeral item or service can preserve the deceased’s body for an indefinite time in the grave or claim that funeral goods (caskets or vaults) will not allow dirt, water, or other gravesite substances to enter.

Contact your federal, state or local consumer protection agencies, the Conference of Funeral Examining Boards, or the Funeral Service Consumer Assistance Program (FSCAP) if you are having a funeral problem that cannot be resolved with the funeral director.

▼ Are surviving family members entitled to Social Security benefits?

If the deceased has paid Social Security for a minimum of ten years, he/she is covered. Contact your local Social Security office or call 800-772-1213 to find out if the deceased was eligible. There are two types of available benefits, if eligible:

One-time death benefit - A death benefit is paid by Social Security towards burial expenses. To apply the payment to your funeral bill, simply complete the form necessary at your local Social Security office or ask the funeral director to complete the application. This is only available to eligible spouses or a child that is entitled to the benefits of the survivor.

Benefits of a survivor for a spouse or children - The spouse will be eligible for benefits if he/she is 60 years old or older. The benefit amount collected before the age of 65 will be less than that due at the age of 65 or older. Widows who are disabled are eligible for benefits at age 50. If the deceased’s spouse cares for dependent children under the age of 16 or for disabled children, they may qualify for benefits before age 60. The deceased’s children who are disabled or younger than 18 may also qualify for the benefits.

▼ What is probate?

It is the legal process of allocating the estate to the lawful heirs as well as paying the debts of the deceased. The process typically includes:

  • An individual being appointed by the court to function as the personal representative or executor of the estate. The person is usually mentioned in the will. The court will appoint a personal representative, typically the spouse, if there is no will.
  • Validating the will.
  • Letting all heirs, beneficiaries and creditors know that the will has been probated.
  • In accordance with the will or state law, organizing the estate by the personal representative.

A petition must be filed by the spouse or the selected personal representative with the court following the death. A fee for the process of probate will be charged.

Probation of a will might require legal assistance, depending on the size and complexity of the assets to probate.

If the deceased and someone else jointly owned assets, they are not subject to probate. The proceeds of a life insurance policy or Individual Retirement Account (IRA) will be paid to the beneficiary and are not subject to probate.

▼ Upon a family member’s death, what taxes are due?

The following sums up the different taxes that may need to be paid upon death of a family member:

  • Federal Estate Tax. Amounts that are given to the surviving spouse or to a charity are typically exempt from estate tax. Normally, the estate tax is only owed on estates (which, after decreasing the amount by what is given to the spouse and charity, surpasses the unified credit exemption equivalent).
  • If you need to file an estate tax return, get in touch with the IRS to get a Form 706. Within nine months of the death, absent extension date, a federal estate tax return must be filed.
  • State Estate Taxes. These differ by state. States may enforce estate taxes that may be applied on top of the federal estate taxes while others may be utilized when federal estate taxes don’t. There are inheritance taxes that some states impose, which are on the individuals that receive the inheritance, rather than on the estate itself.
  • Income Taxes. The deceased’s state and federal income taxes are due for the year of death. Unless an extension is solicited, the taxes are due on the regular filing date of the coming year. For the year of the death, the deceased’s spouse may file a joint federal income tax return. If the spouse has a dependent child, he/she may file for an additional two years. It might be helpful to look at the IRS’s Publication 559, “Information for Survivors, Executors and Administrators. “
▼ May I refuse inherited property in order to reduce taxes?

To refuse all or part of the property that is being passed on to you by a will, intestacy laws or the operation of law, you should make use of the disclaimer. The property is passed to the next beneficiary in line with an effective disclaimer.

By the property passing directly from the decedent to the next beneficiary, it could possible save thousands of dollars in estate taxes. The wise use of the a disclaimer and the condition for a disclaimer in a will permits the shifting of assets and income to maximize the estate tax marital deduction, unified credit and the lower income tax brackets.

To provide for financial contingencies, disclaimers may also come in handy. For instance, if someone needs funds, you can disclaim an interest to them.

▼ My spouse died this year; may I file a joint return for this year?

Of course. If the surviving spouse didn’t remarry before the end of the tax year, he/she may choose to file a joint return.

▼ Do I owe taxes on life insurance profits payable to me?

Typically not. Unless the recipient paid for the privilege to collect the life insurance policies, they are non-taxable income. For instance, if a policy was purchased as an investment.

 Are distributions of a retirement plan or IRA of the deceased taxable?

Typically, yes because it is considered income with regards to the decedent. The tax is due by the recipient because the deceased had not paid the distribution’s income tax. You may be entitled to a deduction for a segment of the estate taxes paid, if the account’s value was incorporated in the estate tax return of the decedent.

▼ If my spouse died without a will, how will his/her assets be distributed?

The law will pass on the jointly held assets with right of survivorship on to the joint holder. The designated beneficiary of the insurance policies and retirement accounts will be awarded to said individuals. The assets owned only by the decedent will be dealt with according to state law, known as intestacy. Generally, the preference is given to the spouse or children, but the laws differ from state to state.

Our Scarsdale tax preparers here at Herman & Company CPA’s are here for all your financial needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford NY, Armonk NY, Chappaqua NY, Katonah NY, Scarsdale NY, Rye NY, Greenwich CT and beyond. 

Photo Credit: Kratka Photography via Photopin cc

Life Insurance: FAQs

Scarsdale accountant Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions! The following are frequently asked questions our Westchester CPA firm receives regarding life insurance. Get to know these important facts, as well as our previous life insurance discussion, to make sure you choose the best possible life insurance for you!

▼ How are people classified for rate purposes?

To ensure that you receive the best rate possible it is useful to understand how these premiums are calculated by insurers. Firstly insurers will place people into four main categories:

  • Preferred
  • Standard
  • Substandard
  • Uninsurable

Someone who has a semi-serious illness such as diabetes or heart disease can be insured but will pay a higher premium. People with a chronic illness will be placed in the substandard category. Someone with a terminal illness will be rendered uninsurable.

People with high risk jobs or hobbies will be considered substandard as well.

The premiums that you are charged will correlate with the category that you are placed in.

Life Insurance FAQs from Scarsdale CPA

Life insurance can be a real life-saver for your dependents!

Since the categorizing is not an exact science, one company may place you in a different category than another, thus drastically changing the prices of your premiums.

Once you are approved for coverage from a company, they cannot deny you coverage for any reason unless you cease payment.

 What should I be on the lookout for when I am purchasing life insurance?

First of all, beware that many insurance salespeople work on a commission basis, and may want to persuade you to purchase the policy that brings them the largest commission, rather than getting you the policy that makes the most sense for you.

Most of all, be sure that the company you are buying from will be in existence when you need them. Make sure that you check the insurer’s rating before you consider doing business with them.

Always review the costs of any recommended policy. The commissions will be stated, and you can see exactly where the money that you contribute will go.

Ask the insurance agent to explain the different policies and why the one you agree on is the best for you considering your circumstances.

▼ How can I easily compare prices between insurance companies?

In most states there will be a set of rules laid down by a group of insurance regulators. Agents may be required to calculate two different types of indexes to aid in price shopping.

  • Net payment index
  • Surrender cost index

The net payment index calculates the cost of carrying the policy for ten to twenty years. This can be judged easily by remembering that the lower this number is, the more inexpensive the policy is. This is most helpful if you are more concerned with the death payout than the investment.

On the other hand, the surrender cost index is more useful to those who are concerned with the cash value of the investment. The lower this number is, the better.

The cash surrender value is what you will receive in return if you were to surrender the policy, which is different than the cash accumulation value. If you are checking the prices of universal life policies, if the policies have different premiums and death benefits, the policy with the higher cash surrender value would be the better investment.

▼ Why should I have life insurance? Do I really need it?

The main reason that people purchase life insurance is to know that in the event of their passing, their children and loved ones will be taken care of. Life insurance can also help with the distribution of your estate. Your payout could go to family, charity, or wherever you choose to distribute it.

The main reasons to buy life insurance would be because you have dependents that would be put in a tough position without you providing for them. For example, if you have a spouse, a child, or a parent who is dependent on your income, you should have life insurance.

If you have a spouse and young children, you will need more insurance than someone with older children, because they will be dependents for a longer amount of time than older children. If you are in a position where you and your spouse both earn for the family, then you should both be insured in proportion to the incomes that you garner.

If you have a spouse and older children or no children, you will still want to have life insurance, but you won’t need the same level of insurance as in the first example, just enough to ensure that your spouse will be provided for, to cover your burial expenses, and to settle the debts that you have accumulated.

If you don’t have children or a spouse, you will only need enough insurance to make sure that your burial expenses are covered, unless you would like to have an insurance policy in order to help in the distribution of your estate.

 What amount of life insurance should I have?

In order to figure out how much insurance you need, you will need to explore your current household expenses, debts, assets, and streams of income. If you need assistance in this, consult either your accountant or financial advisor.

The amount of money that you want to leave behind for your dependents should allow them to use some of the money to maintain their current standard of living, then reinvest another lump sum to ensure that they will be well off in the future.

When attempting to calculate the amount of money that you need to leave behind, be extremely meticulous. If you err low, your family may not receive the help that they need from the insurance company, and if you err the other way, you will be spending more than necessary in insurance premiums.

Our Scarsdale tax preparers here at Herman & Company CPA’s are here for all your financial needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Bronxville NY, Harrison NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Larchmont NY, Scarsdale NY, Rye Brook NY, Stamford CT and beyond.

Photo Credit: dibytes via Photopin cc

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.